Imagine what it would be like to really live moment by moment. To be fully immersed in what you’re doing and not be consumed with future desires or past regrets. It’s easy to get lost in the past or caught up in hopes for the future. Not that focusing on either of these is a problem, but often the most joy and contentment comes when we are engaged in what is happening right now! Further, when we live in the moment we can stay more focused on living intentionally. We can make choices deliberately instead of based on impulsive reactions. Success is a day by day achievement. Don’t let your vision for the future keep you stunted from growing today. Don’t let who you were get in the way of who you can be today.
To be alive is to totally and openly participate in the simplicity and elegance of here and now. – Donald Altman
Being “fully alive” is why practicing mindfulness is so beneficial. We experience greater fulfillment in the moment but also live with greater clarity and peace. Many people are aware of how to practice mindfulness but it’s also important to learn what can prevent us from developing mindfulness. There are many potential obstacles to developing mindfulness, and if left unchecked, these patterns can operate outside of the field of conscious awareness keeping us stuck in our old troubled thinking patterns. Here are six obstacles that get in the way of mindfulness.
Attachment to our story, our stress, our judgments, and our problems
Have you ever known someone who always identifies with their problems? If they lose their job, have a health problem, or are going through a rough time, they keep playing the story of their problems over and over in their head. We all have a personal story and belief system about who we are the way life is supposed to be. Our self-identity gets wrapped up in these stories and we start to believe the story. In doing so we become a victim of our circumstances. Don’t get lost in your stories. Recognize how precious each moment is! Each hour! You can change your story when you don’t get attached to it.
Habitual Routines and Compulsive Activity
It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about? – Henry David Thoreau
One of the greatest benefits of mindful awareness is that it broadens our perspective of the mindless habits and activities we tend to do. We can start to notice the incessant narrative running through our head and the urge to act on these thoughts. When we are driven to always be doing something we end up being busy just for the sake of being busy. We’re working hard but getting nothing accomplished. So, what are the distractions and habits that get in the way of your present moment awareness? What steals your attention?
Conditioned Patterns and Roles
Most people don’t think twice, or even once for that matter, about their reactions and impulses. W e have lived so long with distortions and defenses that we don’t even realize why we do what we do. We develop styles of communicating and interacting that aren’t appropriate or skillful for a given situation. Mindfulness can help us slow down and learn new ways of responding and expressing ourselves.
The Need to Be Right or Knowledgeable
Everyone has their own perspective and opinion. When things become about right vs. wrong we start living with more criticism and judgement. When we are judging others we are no longer present and open to giving and receiving value in the moment. We become defensive or guarded instead. Mindfulness helps us realize that life isn’t about right or wrong. It is instead about the value of the momentary experience, and how we can use the experience to change us for the better.
Avoidance of Discomfort
When we’re unable to deal with unpleasant feelings we avoid them and in turn avoid dealing with our issues only to stay stuck. Mindfulness isn’t about controlling thoughts and feelings but is about recognizing the wave of emotions that come and go. It is about experiencing what is happening in the moment. Pain and discomfort can be eased when we realize pain doesn’t last forever, and that we can change our relationship to this discomfort. Buddhist teacher and author Pema Chodron advises us to face our negative emotions by sitting with them and not trying to escape them. If you react and reject your experience in the moment, you will suffer from unhappiness. Chodron recommends that when you feel discomfort, to take a deep breathe, as if you’re breathing the feeling into your heart. Don’t judge it or try to avoid it but be with it and experience it with out attachment.
The Need to Be in Control
Being in control can make us feel a false sense of safety. If we’re fearful or anxious we can be driven by our impulse to control our surroundings by closing off. Mindfulness can help us let go of this impulse and open ourselves to the potential that lies within uncertainty. Allowing things to unfold instead of gripping them tightly leads to an expanded and gentle awareness.
A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. – Proverb
Where and when do you want to be more present? Is it with relationships or at work? Make it a goal to be more present and mindful starting today! Pay attention to the compassion, patience, and wisdom you receive.